There's a specific type of greatness that basketball brings out in its players. It's unlike any other sport, in my opinion. When you see people like Michael Jordan, Lebron James, or Larry Bird play, it's like you're watching art in action. It's both beautiful and aggressively destructive all at the same time.
Being the greatest in a place like the NBA means playing at your best every single second. You don't get GOAT status by coasting on games. You get GOAT status by being the GOAT during every single second of your play. That's what a professional basketball player strives for whenever they step on the court.
Unfortunately, many will never be comparable to the fifty greatest professional basketball players to ever lace up their sneakers and play under the bright lights. With that said, check out this compiled list of the fifty greatest NBA basketball players of all-time. #1 will definitely stir up some controversy, do you agree?
Paul Pierce is one of the craftiest NBA players of this past generation. He wasn't exactly the most athletic of his 1998 Draft Class but his technical skill set and basketball IQ was leaps and bounds ahead of his competition which allowed him to be drafted at the tenth overall by the Boston Celtics where he had an extremely fruitful professional career.
His nickname 'The Truth' became a well-known moniker given to him in 2001 by Shaquille O'neal and he definitely lived up to the hype. Paul Pierce went on to earn ten NBA All-Star honors, become fourth in the most made three-pointers in NBA history, and a one-time NBA Champion and NBA Finals MVP after defeating Kobe Bryant and the Los Angeles Lakers in the 2008 NBA Finals. Pierce was able to retire in his hometown of Los Angeles as a Clipper in 2017.
Bob Cousy is one of the original superstars of the developing NBA during his twenty-year stint in the professional basketball league. After attending College of the Holy Cross and bringing the institution to their first NCAA Tournaments in 1948 and 1950, Cousy was drafted 3rd overall by the Tri-Cities Blackhawks but, refused to report to the team and eventually was picked up by the Boston Celtics where he became the 'Houdini on the Hardwood'.
Cousy's ball handling ability and elite passing allowed him to lead the league in assists for eight consecutive seasons as he also earned thirteen NBA All-Star honors as well as six NBA championships. Cousy also won MVP honors in 1957. In 1970, Mr. Basketball retired from the game with the Cincinnati Royals, his number 14 was retired by the Boston Celtics and now hangs in the banisters.
Vince Carter is one of the most electrifying athletes to hit the professional hardwood. The now 41-year-old NBA player earned the moniker 'Half Man, Half Amazing' for his springboard ability to dunk at any given moment and with ease. Vince Carter's performance during the 2000 NBA All-Star Slam Dunk contest is one of the best in the game's history and will forever be one of the most memorable contest and performances for years to come.
In 1998, Carter was drafted by the Toronto Raptors fifth overall and went on to earn eight NBA All-Star honors and Rookie of the Year in 1999. At 41, Carter is still active and effective in the league as he is a current member of the Sacramento Kings and only the seventh player to achieve twenty years of consecutive play in the NBA. Vince will forever be a street legend and treasured NBA figure.
If you think about it, James Worthy is the prototype for every majorly effective NBA player of this current generation. Standing at 6'9", Worthy's height, athleticism, and speed allowed him to thrive on the professional hardwood. His ability to handle the ball and make decisions on the fly was exactly why he was drafted by the Los Angeles Lakers first overall in the 1982 NBA Draft and was never traded or released by the legendary sports franchise.
'Big Game James' won an NCAA Championship with the North Carolina Tar Heels in 1982 only to win his first NBA Championship three years later with the Lakers in 1985. Worthy would go on to win two more NBA Championships with the Lakers alongside winning NBA Finals MVP with his final NBA ring in 1988. James also earned seven NBA All-Star credits during his illustrious career and is still in the basketball business as an analyst and commentator. For all of you youngsters out there aspiring to be great basketball players, following James Worthy's blueprint is the way to go.
Another Boston Celtics legend is making the list, in Basketball Hall of Fame inductee, Kevin McHale. The power forward, who was selected third overall by the Boston Celtics in 1980, went on to average 17.9 points per game throughout his thirteen year NBA career. Kevin McHale was also the one to deliver that infamous hard foul to the Los Angeles Lakers' very own Kurt Rambis in game four of the 1984 NBA Playoffs that has since then become a sports highlight staple.
Throughout McHale's career, he was able to earn three NBA Championships with the Boston Celtics as well as seven NBA All-Star appearances, two Sixth Man of the Year Awards, and earning his way to First Team All-Rookie in 1981. The dominant and lengthy power forward is now one of the NBA's most coveted coaches and is still considering coaching in today's NBA climate after being released from the Houston Rockets in 2015.
John Havlicek can sometimes go overlooked when it comes to talking about NBA greats due to the greatness of his teammates around him. Only Celtic teammates, Bill Russell and Sam Jones have surpassed him as the most winningest NBA players in history. In 1960, Havlicek won an NCAA title with Ohio State before being drafted into the NBA seventh overall by the Boston Celtics in 1962.
Instantaneously, Havlicek won four consecutive NBA titles with his Boston Celtics teammates in his first four seasons in the professional league. Havlicek went on to win four more throughout his sixteen year NBA career, even earning NBA Finals MVP honors in 1974. Havlicek is responsible for having one of the most historic plays in NBA history under his belt as he stole the ball with just five seconds left on the clock in the 1965 Eastern Conference Finals against the Wilt Chamberlain-led Philadelphia 76ers.
David Thompson is another one of the classic NBA athletes that tends to be looked over as well because of his lack of concrete accolades but during his stint in the NBA, he was known as one of the league's deadliest scorers. Thompson played for both the ABA and the NBA, the Denver Nuggets [1975-1982] for both leagues and the Seattle Supersonics in the NBA [1982-1984]. In 1974, Thompson earned an NCAA title with NC State and went on to be drafted first overall by the Atlanta Hawks in the 1975 NBA Draft.
Thompson is one of the few NBA players to a 70+ scoring game as he scored 73 points against the Detroit Pistons in 1978 in an effort win the Scoring Title but came up short after George Gervin scored 63 points in a game later the same evening. Thompson later broke records when he was offered a $4 million contract for five years of commitment following the 1978 season, a contract of that magnitude had never been heard of during the time. Unfortunately, Thompson suffered a knee injury at the infamous Studio 54 in 1984 and never was the same athlete.
Ray Allen is one of the most precise shooters the NBA has ever seen. His ability to a good look from distance takes little to no time in regards to his release and he currently holds the title for the most regular season made three-pointers, as well as postseason made three-pointers. Ray Allen was drafted fifth overall by the Minnesota Timberwolves during the legendary 1996 NBA Draft and went on to play eighteen full seasons in the NBA with the Milwaukee Bucks, Seattle Supersonics, Boston Celtics, and ending his career as a member of the Miami Heat.
Throughout his career, Allen was able to earn two NBA Championships, one with the Boston Celtics in 2008 and one with the Miami Heat in 2013 where his three-point shot from the corner solidified the team's win over the San Antonio Spurs in game seven of the series. Ray Allen is also the star of the classic Spike Lee film, He Got Game, and has proven such as he's now retired from the professional league.
Gary Payton is known for his defensive prowess and trash talking while on the court during his illustrious stint in the NBA. The Oakland, California native was drafted second overall in the 1990 NBA Draft by the Seattle Supersonics and to this very day, the point guard holds records in points, assists, and steals for the franchise that has since relocated in Oklahoma City and go by the Thunder.
Later, Payton would by the nickname 'The Glove' for his defensive abilities and was the first ever and only point guard to win Defensive Player of the Year honors. Payton and the Sonics were able to make it to the NBA Finals in 1996 where they faced off against Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls but, came up short after losing the series in six games. These days, Gary Payton is coaching a three-on-three team under Ice Cube's BIG3 basketball league imprint.
Jason Kidd is one of the greatest basketball minds, the game has ever witnessed. His ability to control an entire game at the point guard position gave many of his team's the blueprint for success and his on-court vision is every coach's dream. Kidd was drafted second overall by the Dallas Mavericks in the 1994 NBA Draft and instantaneously became the leader of that franchise.
Unfortunately, Kidd was not able to make an NBA Finals appearance until he the 2001-2002 NBA season with the New Jersey Nets. Kidd led the team to two straight Finals but lost both series, it wasn't until he was 38-years-old until he won his first NBA Championship against the Lebron James-led Miami Heat. Jason Kidd will forever be remembered as one of the league's most efficient point guards as he's ranked second on the all-time lists for career steals and assists.
Russell Westbrook is this generation's most intense and athletic point guard in the NBA today. His speed alone and willingness to do anything in order to solidify a win for his team is a passion that many would say is lacking in today's NBA climate. The 6'3" point guard was selected fourth overall in the 2008 NBA Draft by the then Seattle Supersonics and has been a leader for the team ever since.
Westbrook has earned seven NBA-All Star honors including two NBA All-Star MVP credits and the title of Most Valuable Player during the 2016-2017 NBA season in which he put up a historic and record-breaking 42 triple-doubles throughout the season. Only Russell Westbrook and Oscar Robertson have ever averaged a triple-double throughout an entire season. Westbrook is currently trying to find a way back into the NBA Finals in order to earn his first title.
Reggie Miller is easily considered the greatest Indiana Pacer of all-time. He's known for having one of the deadliest shots in the history of professional basketball and his ability to knock down shots in high-pressure situations. Reggie Miller was drafted eleventh overall in the 1987 NBA Draft by the Indiana Pacers and played his entire NBA career with the franchise. He later became known as the 'Knick Killer' but struggled to get past Michael Jordan during the prime of his career. Miller had a chance to earn his first NBA Championship in the 2001 NBA Finals but lost to Kobe Bryant, Shaquille O'neal, and the Los Angeles Lakers.
Reggie Miller is the second all-time leader in three-points made in the history of the game and one of the best free throw shooters of all-time as well. Despite not being able to earn an NBA Championship, the sharp-shooter did earn Olympic Gold with the 1996 American Basketball Olympic Team. Noe, Miller spends his time as a color commentator for the NBA on TNT.
Earl 'Black Jesus' Monroe is a legend in the city of New York for what he brought to the Knicks franchise during his tenure with the legendary organization. Monroe was drafted second overall by the Baltimore Bullets in the 1967 NBA Draft and scored a total of 56 points against the Los Angeles Lakers in his rookie year, the third highest amount of points scored by any rookie in the history of the NBA. Monroe was known for his flashy and highlight reel style of play.
Monroe was not able to achieve championship status during the 1973 season as the point guard/shooting guard of the New York Knicks. He was able to earn four NBA All-Star honors as well as Rookie of the Year in the year 1968 and to this very day at the age of 73-years-old looks great and able.
At one point in time, Elvin Hayes was so clumsy and non-athletic that many thought he would never have a career in the sports realm but, during his high school tenure, he continuously worked on his game and led his alma mater to a state championship with 45 points and 20 rebounds. Hayes was drafted first overall in the 1968 NBA Draft by the San Diego Rockets and at 6'9" earned twelve NBA All-Star honors while averaging 21 points per game throughout his career.
While playing for the Washington Bullets, Hayes and his teammates won an NBA title against the Seattle Supersonics in 1978. Hayes broke the NBA record for most offensive rebounds in an NBA Finals game during the series. Elvin Hayes played a total of sixteen years in the pros and is a member of the 50th Anniversary NBA All-Time Team.
Patrick Ewing might be the greatest Jamaican-American basketball player of all-time. Unfortunately, Ewing was never able to reach the pinnacle of achieving an NBA title throughout his eighteen-year tenure in the NBA after being picked first overall in the 1985 NBA Draft by the New York Knicks. However, Ewing did appear in both the 1994 and 1999 NBA Finals where his Knicks teams couldn't defeat the Houston Rockets and San Antonio Spurs.
The 7'0" center averaged 21 points throughout his career and received NBA All-Star honors eleven times as well. He's one of the most dominant and skilled big men to ever grace the professional hardwood and has worked in the coaching realm of the NBA. Ewing was cut loose from his coaching gig with the Charlotte Hornets in 2017 and currently coaches his NCAA alma mater in Georgetown.
Steph Curry is going to be in the conversation of the greatest shooters of all-time in the next decade and his precision and ability to shoot from virtually anywhere on the court has single-handedly changed how the game is currently being played in today's generation of professional hoops. The 6'3" point guard was drafted ninth overall in the 2009 NBA Draft by a lackluster Golden State Warriors team in the hopes of rebuilding their franchise.
Since then, Steph Curry has gone on to win two championship rings with the organization in 2015 and 2017 and is looking for his first back-to-back championships at this very moment. Curry has also received two MVP trophies for the 2015 and 2016 NBA seasons as well as, NBA All-Star honors five consecutive years in a row beginning in 2014. There's no telling where Steph is headed as it is still somewhat early in his NBA career.
Nathaniel 'Tiny' Archibald was originally known as playground legend in the tough streets of the Bronx, New York and considered dropping out of college before he could become drafted. Luckily, the legendary Oscar Robertson was able to mentor him and get him back on track and he eventually drafted in the second round of the 1970 NBA Draft at the nineteenth overall pick by the Cincinnati Royals, which later became the Kansas City Kings. Archibald became wildly popular with the fans for his amazing speed, ball handling, spectacular passing skills and cutting abilities. Unfortunately, Archibald was later traded to the New York Nets and did a tenure with the Buffalo Braves before arriving in Boston in 1978.
Archibald won his first and only NBA Championship with the Boston Celtics in 1981 and also received accolades such as NBA All-Star honors six times throughout his career and leading the league in both scoring and assists in 1973. The 6'1" point guard retired following a single season with the Milwaukee Bucks in 1984.
Steve Nash is one of the craftiest and best point guards to ever play basketball and skipped the opportunity to play professional soccer for a shot in the NBA. Nash was drafted twelfth overall by the Phoenix Suns in what could be the most legendary NBA Draft to date in 1996. Throughout his illustrious career, Steve Nash was able to earn two MVP trophies in back-to-back years in 2005 and 2006 and received NBA All-Star honors eight times throughout his nineteen-year career.
Nash was able to lead multiple teams to the NBA Western Conference Finals including both the Dallas Mavericks and Phoenix Suns but could never get over the hump in the tough conference. He's one of the most precise shooters the NBA has ever seen and his playmaking ability is something that just can't be taught. Nash was and still is known as a floor leader who made his teammates better and he currently works with the Golden State Warriors as a players consultant.
Dwyane Wade is one of the most explosive shooting guards to ever play the game and there isn't a single NBA player in the planet that has taken over the NBA Finals like Dwyane Wade did during the 2006 NBA Finals. Dwyane Wade's ability to get a good look from the court with ease has earned him an arguable conversation for the third best shooting guard in existence.
Dwyane Wade was drafted by the Miami Heat fifth overall in the 2003 NBA Draft and has since then gone on to average 22.5 points throughout his fifteen-year NBA career and has earned three NBA Championships, one in 2006 alongside Shaquille O'neal and two consecutive rings alongside Lebron James in 2012 and 2013. Dwyane Wade is currently contemplating retirement but the basketball community is hoping he makes his return to the professional hardwood for a farewell tour.
Kevin Durant AKA The Slim Reaper is one of the best practical and all-around skilled NBA players of this current generation and he's possibly the go-to pick for many members of this current NBA alumni. It also doesn't hurt the fact that he's athletic, able to handle the ball, and he's touching 7'0" tall. Kevin Durant was drafted second overall in the 2007 NBA Draft by the Seattle Supersonics and instantly became the Rookie of the Year for that season in 2008.
Durant spent a majority of his career with the Seattle Sonics/Oklahoma City Thunder before signing a contract with the Golden State Warriors in 2016 and winning his first NBA Championship in 2017. Durant also was throned as the league's MVP in 2014 and has received twelve NBA All-Star honors throughout his career as well as an NBA Finals MVP title in 2017 as well.
Kevin Garnett is easily one of the most intense personalities to ever play professional basketball and had the ability and skill set to affect the game at his will during his prime. Kevin Garnett was the first NBA Player to be drafted directly out of high school in two decades by the Minnesota Timberwolves with the fifth overall pick in the 1995 NBA Draft.
Throughout his twenty-one year NBA career, Kevin Garnett has averaged 17.8 points per game has received NBA All-Star honors a total of twelve times, was named the Most Valuable Player during the 2004 NBA season, and received his first and only NBA Championship with the 2008 Boston Celtics. Kevin Garnett did it all, whether if it was provide a defensive presence, hit the open shot, have a plethora of weapons with his back to the back or get in the competition's head with trash talk, Garnett was feared and respected during his NBA career.
Scottie Pippen is known for being Michael Jordan's sidekick but in reality, the two needed each other in order to create one of the greatest sports' dynasties to ever exist. Scottie's length and athletic ability made it difficult for the opposition to get in rhythm offensively and he also had the court vision and offensive talent to provide Michael Jordan with an outlet on the offensive side of the ball.
Pippen was drafted fifth overall in the 1987 NBA Draft by the Seattle Supersonics but was traded to the Chicago Bulls where he would play a total of eleven consecutive seasons earning six NBA Championships on two separate three-peats with the franchise. Scottie went on to earn NBA All-Star honors a total of seven times throughout his career alongside two Olympic gold medals as a member of the 1992 Dream Team and the 1996 US Olympic Men's Basketball team. He retired from the NBA in 2004 returning the Chicago Bulls and later played in Europe in 2008.
Dirk Nowitzki is most likely the best professional German basketball player to ever be drafted into the NBA. Nowitzki was drafted ninth overall in the 1998 NBA Draft by the Milwaukee Bucks but was diverted to the Dallas Mavericks where he's spent his entire twenty-year NBA career and for obvious reasons. Dirk is considered to be one of the greatest power forwards to ever play the game with his all-around knowledge and ability standing at a tall 7'0". There's virtually nothing that Nowitzki couldn't do during the prime of his career.
Nowitzki has averaged an impressive 21.2 points per game throughout his entire career and has earned a single NBA Championship and NBA Finals MVP in 2011 against Lebron James and the Miami Heat. Nowitzki also has earned MVP honors in the year 2007 as well as thirteen NBA All-Star appearances as well.
David 'The Admiral' Robinson earned his nickname due to his prior Navy service before being drafted number one overall by the San Antonio Spurs in the 1987 NBA Draft. David Robinson is one of the most skilled big men to ever play the game and always remained poised when on the professional hardwood. Robinson spent his entire fourteen year NBA career with the San Antonio Spurs and has earned two NBA Champions for the franchise in 1999 and 2003.
Robinson also has a lengthy list of accolades including Rookie of the Year in the 1990 NBA season, MVP honors in 1995, and ten-time NBA All-Star appearances. Robinson was and still is known for his positive demeanor which earned him the NBA Sportsmanship Award in the 2001 season. The Admiral averaged a total of 21.1 points per game throughout his Hall of Fame-worthy NBA career.
Charles Barkley is one of the greatest NBA personalities due to his unwillingness to be tamed and fearlessness. Barkley was drafted fifth overall out of Auburn in the 1984 NBA Draft by the Philadelphia 76ers. Instantly, Chuck became a force to reckoned with, with his interior offensive ability, defensive toughness, and scrappy style of play which earned him eleven NBA All-Star honors and even the 1995 Most Valuable Player Award as well.
Unfortunately, Charles Barkley was never able to earn an NBA title after bringing his Phoenix Suns team to the NBA Finals but fell short of achieving the NBA's highest honor to the Chicago Bulls in 1993. However, Barkley did earn two Olympic Gold medals with the 1992 Dream Team and 1996 US Olympic Men's Basketball team. These days, Chuck is all over the airwaves and is an analyst for Inside the NBA on TNT.
John Stockton, the Utah Jazz point guard who never converted to the trend of longer shorts and retained his short-shorts throughout his entire illustrious NBA career. John Stockton was drafted sixteenth overall in the 1984 NBA Draft by the Utah Jazz were he spent his entire nineteen-year career. Stockton's ability to put other players in positions of success was uncanny and his court vision can barely be mimicked to this very day.
Stockton led the NBA in assists for nine consecutive years ranging from 1988 to 1996. He was also a ten-time NBA All-Star and two-time Olympic Gold medalist for the years 1992 and 1996. Unfortunately, Stockton was another NBA great that never got the chance to lift the Larry O'Brien trophy over his head in triumph but, he is the prototype for a nearly perfect point guard today.
Walt 'Clyde' Frazier is considered a messiah in the city of New York as he was the driving force behind the New York Knicks franchises only two NBA titles in the organization's history. Clyde Frazier was drafted fifth overall in the 1967 NBA Draft by the New York Knicks where he spent the next decade of his career wowing fans with his scrappy style of play and tough defense while averaging 19.3 points per game with the team.
Just three years into his NBA career, Frazier was able to solidify the New York Knicks first-ever NBA title after the team defeated the Los Angeles Lakers in seven games, in which the final game performance by Frazier is considered to be one of the greatest of all-time. In 1973, Frazier and the Knicks defeated the Lakers again in five games. Later, Frazier closed out his career with the Cavaliers after three seasons in 1980. These days, Frazier has some of the most eccentric suits in NBA commentary and works as an analyst for MSG Network.
George Gervin is one of the greatest shooting guards to ever grace the professional basketball court and his amazing ability to stay sweat-free on the basketball court earned him with the nickname 'Iceman'. Gervin's signature finger roll became a household move that youth at the time tried to master but, couldn't quite achieve the style due to Gervin's ability to hit the shot from the free throw line. Gervin somehow slipped to the third round of the 1974 NBA Draft and was picked 40th overall by the Phoenix Suns.
Gervin eventually ended up on the San Antonio Spurs roster in 1974 where he would go on to average 25.1 points per game and earned twelve NBA All-Star honors throughout his entire career. Gervin also spent stints with the Chicago Bulls before officially retiring from the NBA but later went on to play basketball professionally in Europe and the now debunked Continental Basketball Association.
Dominique Wilkins is one of the most exciting NBA personalities and athletes the game has ever seen. Wilkins was originally drafted by the Utah Jazz third overall out of the University of Georgia in the 1982 NBA Draft but was traded to the Atlanta Hawks. He spent the majority of his career with the Hawks before bouncing around the league and European leagues before retiring as a member of the Orlando Magic in 1999. During his stint in the NBA, Wilkins earned nine NBA All-Star honors and two NBA Slam Dunk Championships.
Wilkins was known for his high flying ability and was chosen to enter the NBA Slam Dunk Contest a total of four times. The first time in 1985, Wilkins defeated Michael Jordan in an amazing contest of athleticism and dunking ability. The following year, Wilkins was beaten by then-teammate Spud Webb. In 1988, Wilkins and Jordan had a rematch in which Jordan took home the trophy and in 1990, Wilkins participated in his final dunk contest beating Kenny Smith in the finals.
Peter Press Maravich also known as Pistol Pete is one of the greatest offensive talents in the history of the NBA. At only 6'5" it appeared that there wasn't anything that he couldn't do while on the basketball court. Maravich was drafted third overall out of LSU by the Atlanta Hawks in the 1970 NBA Draft. Maravich spent four seasons with the Atlanta Hawks before signing a contract with the New Orleans/Utah Jazz in 1974, where he averaged a total of 25.2 points in six seasons with the franchise. In 1980, Pistol Pete was forced to retire as a member of the Boston Celtics due to be riddled with injuries.
Unfortunately, Pistol Pete never made it to the promise land of achieving an NBA title but, was named an NBA All-Star five times throughout his career and his jersey numbers retired in Atlanta, Utah, and New Orleans. Pistol Pete Maravich will always be a respected figure in the professional sports realm.
Clyde 'The Glide' Drexler is one of the most acrobatic talents of the NBA's last generation and one of the very few NBA players to steal an NBA title during the Chicago Bulls/Michael Jordan legacy and dynasty. His ability to get to the basket and hangtime is one of the rare traits many can practice and develop. The Glide was drafted by fourteenth overall in the 1983 NBA Draft by the Portland Trailblazers were he spent twelve of the fifteen years throughout his illustrious career.
In 1995, Clyde Drexler and Hakeem Olajuwon, were able to secure a championship by sweeping the Orlando Magic in the NBA Finals while Michael Jordan had taken a hiatus from basketball in order to pursue a professional baseball career. Throughout his NBA career, Clyde was able to average 20.4 points per game and received ten NBA All-Star honors before retiring in 1998.
Allen 'The Answer' Iverson is the reason why big men in the NBA today have developed their ball handling skills. Iverson's killer crossover also provided the sports realm with a highlight that caused Michael Jordan to fall on his backside. His aggressive style of play allowed him to get to the basket with ease and he never conformed to the aesthetic of the NBA which caused the league to enforce a dress code.
Iverson was drafted first overall in the 1996 NBA Draft by the Philadelphia 76ers and spent ten years with the ball club and brought the team to the NBA Finals in 2001 where he faced the unstoppable Shaq and Kobe Lakers. Iverson then spent three seasons with the Denver Nuggets alongside Carmelo Anthony and a final season in Memphis which resulted in him being traded back to the 76ers in order to secure his legendary legacy in 2010.
Isiah Thomas is one of the most fearless point guards to ever hit the professional hardwood. His Bad Boy Pistons' teams were able to keep a young Michael Jordan at bay during the earlier parts of his career. Thomas was drafted second overall in the 1981 NBA Draft by the Detroit Pistons after winning an NCAA title with Indiana. Isiah Thomas spent his entire thirteen-year playing career with the Pistons franchise.
Thomas' elite basketball IQ and defensive prowess earned him twelve NBA All-Star honors and two NBA Championships which took place back-to-back years in 1989 and 1990. Since his exit from playing in the NBA, Thomas has gone on to become a broadcaster and NBA head coach for the Indiana Pacers and New York Knicks. Thomas later went on to coach collegiately but is no longer in the coaching realm but could find himself back in the league in no time.
Karl 'The Mailman' Malone earned his nickname for his nearly unstoppable offensive ability in the post. His back to the basket game has yet to be remastered by any of the NBA's current talent today and should be the blueprint for any big man in the league trying to step his game up. Malone was drafted by the Utah Jazz thirteenth overall in the 1985 NBA Draft and spent seventeen years out of his eighteen years with the franchise. Malone spent his final year in the NBA with the Los Angeles Lakers.
Throughout his lengthy and decorated NBA career, Karl Malone was able to earn two Most Valuable Player Awards in 1997 and 1999, fourteen NBA All-Star honors, and holds the record for second-most points in the history of the NBA with a total of 36,928. Unfortunately, the competition was too stiff for Malone to ever prosper and earn an NBA title.
Jerry West's silhouette is the NBA logo and there's a reason for that, he's one of the best point guards to ever get his hands on a basketball. West originally drafted to the Minneapolis Lakers second overall in the 1960 NBA Draft out of West Virginia. West's play was so impressive and impactful, he spent his entire fourteen NBA career with the franchise that eventually moved to Los Angeles.
Throughout his entire career, West averaged a total of 27.0 points per game and made fourteen NBA All-Star appearances, which was every year of his tenure. West also somehow was the NBA Finals MVP in 1969 despite the Lakers failing to win a championship. West did win a ring in the 1972 season. West's ball-handling ability and offensive prowess puts him ahead of many and will forever be remembered as one of the greats on the court and one of best NBA executives off the court as well.
Moses Malone is one of the most decorated and respected centers to ever hit the professional hardwood. Moses Malone officially began his professional playing career in the American Basketball Association in 1974 after being drafted in the third round where played for the Utah Stars. Eventually, Malone found his way to the Houston Rockets in 1976 but it wasn't until he was a member of the Philadelphia 76ers where he became legendary.
Throughout his professional playing career, Malone earned twelve NBA All-Star honors, three MVP trophies, and an NBA Finals MVP Award, and an NBA title in 1983 after Malone and the 76ers swept the Lakers in the NBA Finals. Moses Malone is ranked ninth all-time in career points with a total of 29,580 and was a mentor to another NBA legend in Hakeem Olajuwon.
Sometimes, Elgin Baylor gets looked over because of the company he was surrounded by on his star-studded Los Angeles Lakers teams. Baylor was drafted first overall in the 1958 NBA Draft by the Minneapolis Lakers after one year in college at the College of Idaho. Baylor instantly became a fan-favorite with his ability to hang in the air prior to taking his jump shots, his ability to grab rebounds with ease, and excellent court vision.
Throughout his fourteen seasons as an active NBA player, he earned Rookie of the Year honors in 1959, made eleven NBA All-Star appearances, and he made eight NBA Finals appearances. Unfortunately, Baylor never won a ring as an active player but will always be remembered not as only one of the greatest Lakers of all-time but one of the best athletes and competitors of all-time as well.
Tim Duncan is arguably the greatest power forward of all-time and with his wide array of accolades, he has the numbers and trophies to back it up. His back to the basket game is one of the best developed ever and his patented bank shot is nearly impossible to stop. Tim Duncan's also one of the quietest, humblest, and most winningest personalities in NBA history. Duncan was drafted first overall by the San Antonio Spurs in 1997 out of Wake Forest.
Throughout his illustrious career, Duncan would go on to win five NBA Championships, earn three NBA Finals MVP titles, two Most Valuable Player Awards, and earn fifteen NBA All-Star appearances. His poise on both sides of the court is an NBA coach's dream and he'll forever be respected as one of the greatest big men the league has ever seen.
Hakeem 'The Dream' Olajuwon was and still is probably the most technically sound center to ever grace the professional hardwood. His footwork and ability to create his own shot in the post is something that can be taught but takes thousands of hours of practice and experience to master. For those of you doubting this, google Hakeem vs. Shaq and you decide for yourself. Olajuwon was drafted first overall in 1984 NBA Draft by the Houston Rockets where he spent the majority of his career, The Dream also played his final season with the Toronto Raptors before hanging it up for good.
Throughout his career, Hakeem was able to average 21.8 points per game while winning two NBA titles back-to-back in 1994 and 1995, as well as two NBA Finals MVP Awards for both of those seasons as well. Olajuwon also won MVP for the 1994 season, an Olympic Gold medal in the 1996 Atlanta games, and earned twelve NBA All-Star appearances in his eighteen-year career. These days, Olajuwon is a player development coach for the Houston Rockets.
Larry Bird is one of the deadliest shooters the game has ever seen. His competitive spirit and sheer win to win by any means necessary is what earned him his legendary status throughout his decorated NBA career as a player. Bird was selected sixth overall by the Boston Celtics in the 1978 NBA Draft by way of Indiana State. His impressive play began instantaneously as he won Rookie of the Year in 1980 and never looked back at mediocrity ever since.
Larry Bird went on to win three hard-fought NBA Championships with the Celtics in the years 1981, 1984, and 1986 his final two rings came along with NBA Finals MVP honors as well. Bird also won three consecutive NBA MVP Awards from 1984-1986 and even made twelve NBA All-Star appearances before retiring from playing in 1992. Bird went on to coach the Indiana Pacers from 1998 to 2000 and now has an office role with the franchise.
There's no denying that Shaquille O'neal is and was the most dominant center to ever play the game of professional basketball. No matter who he faced throughout the prime of his career, teams had no way to stop him from entering the paint and flushing down a forceful dunk over his opponents. Shaq was originally drafted first overall by the Orlando Magic in the 1992 NBA Draft. He spent four seasons with the Florida franchise before signing a contract with the Los Angeles Lakers where he would become a household name and legend forever.
Shaq won three consecutive NBA Championships with the Lakers alongside Kobe Bryant from 2000-2002, all three years in which he received NBA Finals MVP before falling out with Bryant and the franchise and taking his talents to Miami where he won his fourth and final NBA title in 2006. It's hard to believe Shaq has only won one MVP Award which was in 2000 but has a long list of accolades that help him sleep well at night. To this very day, Shaq is everywhere from commercials to television as an analyst on Inside The NBA on TNT.
Kobe Bryant is the epitome of the reincarnation of Michael Jordan. They're the same height, played the same position, and only had one goal in mind and that was to win by any means necessary. Kobe Bryant's technical skill and athletic ability made him nearly impossible to stop during the prime of his career with off the dribble skills or a fadeaway that looked like it would never go in, Kobe 'Bean' Bryant is every defensive player's nightmare. Bryant was drafted straight out of high school by the Charlotte Hornets at the thirteenth pick overall and instantly traded to the Los Angeles Lakers where he spent his entire career.
Throughout his illustrious career, Bryant has been able to earn five NBA Championships, two NBA Finals MVP Awards in 2009 and 2010, only one MVP honor in 2009, eighteen NBA All-Star appearances, and currently sits at the third slot on the all-time NBA most points list with a total of 33,643 only behind Karl Malone and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.
Oscar Robertson is an important figure not only for his athletic accomplishments but for what he stands for socially. Robertson's career was plagued with racism but he continued to impress on and off the court his smooth play and poised demeanor, not to mention he's one of the best all-around NBA players to ever get the opportunity to play the game. Robertson was drafted by the ABA's Cincinnati Royals in 1960 and later became a member of the Milwaukee Bucks in 1970.
In 1963, Oscar Robertson became the first player ever to average a triple-double throughout an entire season, a record he held alone until Russell Westbrook's amazing 2016 NBA season performance. Robertson also helped the Bucks earn their first ever and only NBA Championship in 1971. Robertson also was a one-time NBA MVP in 1964 and made twelve NBA All-Star appearances. The Big O will forever be a legend in the sports realm.
Julius 'Dr. J' Erving inspired an entire generation to play basketball and attempt to reenact his high flying act and abilities which seemed to be nearly impossible. He's definitely one of the most entertaining basketball players to ever play the game which sometimes means his technical skills and competitiveness get overlooked with the number of highlights he has under his belt. Erving was originally drafted twelve overall by the Milwaukee Bucks but found himself on the ABA's Virginia Squires.
Erving later found himself as a member of the New York Nets but his most memorable stint in the NBA was with the Philadelphia 76ers which lasted eleven years in which he eventually retired with the franchise in 1987. While a 76er, Julius Erving did earn an NBA Championship in 1983 and is the only player to win MVP in both the ABA and NBA. It also doesn't hurt that he won two ABA titles and was an eleven-time NBA All-Star as well.
Bill Russell is the most decorated and winningest NBA player of all-time and it's deservingly so due to his skill level and hardcore style of play during his era in the professional basketball league. Russell currently has tied the record for most for most championships won by an athlete with hockey player, Henri Richard. Matter of fact, prior to stepping onto a professional basketball court, Russell won two consecutive NCAA titles in 1955 and 1956 before being picked second overall in the 1956 NBA Draft by the St. Louis Hawks and being traded to the Boston Celtics where he spent his entire career.
Russell earned a total of eleven NBA titles throughout his thirteen year NBA career and made him the centerpiece of the Boston Celtics franchise/dynasty. Russell also won five Most Valuable Player Awards and made twelve NBA All-Star appearances as well. To this very day, you can catch the Hall of Famer sideline at all major NBA games.
Wilt Chamberlain was so unstoppable that the NBA had to change the rules in order to even out the competition with the induction of the goaltending rule. Wilt 'The Stilt' was nearly impossible to stop on the offensive side of the ball with his amazing reach which allowed him to be a force as well as on the defensive side of the court. Chamberlain originally began his basketball career with the Harlem Globetrotters which resulted in him being picked up by the Philadelphia Warriors in 1959. From there he spent stints with the Philadelphia 76ers and Los Angeles Lakers before retiring in 1973.
Chamberlain is the only player to ever score 100 points in a single game and also has won three NBA Championships as a member of both the Philadelphia 76ers and the Los Angeles Lakers in years 1967 and 1972. Wilt earned Most Valuable Player honors four times throughout his career and was a thirteen-time NBA All-Star. Unfortunately, Wilt passed away at the age of 63-years-old due to congestive heart failure. Rest in power to the legend who will never be forgotten.
Earvin 'Magic' Johnson is probably one of the most diverse basketball players to ever grace the professional hardwood. His court vision, insane no-look passes, defensive talent, and ability to get to the basket turned an entire generation into Lakers' fans. Not to mention he was a 6'6" point guard, something that was unheard of during his stint in the NBA. Johnson was drafted first overall in the 1979 NBA Draft by the Los Angeles Lakers after winning an NCAA title at Michigan State. Johnson stayed his entire career with the Lakers before retiring in 1991 and making a return for a single season in 1996.
Throughout his tenure with the Lakers, Johnson earned five NBA Championships, three NBA Finals MVP Awards, three additional MVP Awards, and twelve NBA All-Star appearances. Johnson contracted the HIV virus in 1991 but has beat the deadly illness and is one of the best businessmen the NBA has ever produced. Johnson is currently a partial owner of the Los Angeles Dodgers and Head of Basketball Operations for his former team the Los Angeles Lakers.
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar is another extremely skilled big that was able to find ways to make him unstoppable on the hardwood. Some would say that he's the greatest and most skilled big to ever compete in the NBA. Kareem's patented skyhook became his signature shot as he was able to hit it from virtually anywhere on the court. Abdul-Jabbar was originally drafted first overall in the 1969 NBA Draft by the Milwaukee Bucks. He spent six years with the franchise before signing a contract with the LA Lakers in 1975 and closing out his career with the west coast team in 1989.
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar was able to earn six NBA Championships, six NBA MVPs, two NBA Finals Most Valuable Player Awards, and nineteen NBA All-Star appearances. Not to mention, Kareem holds the record for most points all-time with a total of 38,387. He's a Lakers legend and one of the greatest to ever do it.
Michael Jeffrey Jordan is probably one of the most recognizable sports figures in the world and one of the most famous as well. Michael Jordan's skill set on the court is unmatched and his competitive spirit has allowed him to be in the conversation of the greatest basketball of all-time. Jordan was originally drafted third overall by the Chicago Bulls in the 1984 NBA Draft where he quickly became a force to be reckoned with after winning Rookie of the Year in 1985.
It wasn't until 1991 that Michael Jordan won his first NBA title, which followed by two more consecutive championships which resulted in Mike's first retirement in 1993. Jordan later returned to basketball in 1995 only to win three more consecutive NBA Championships with the Chicago Bulls forever solidifying his legacy. Michael Jordan is a six-time NBA Finals MVP and five-time MVP as well as fourteen time NBA All-Star. He now is a major owner of the Charlotte Hornets and the face of a multi-billion dollar sneaker franchise.
At number one, we have the controversial Lebron James Sr. who is currently still solidifying his legacy as one of the NBA's greatest but still has yet to prove that he's worthy of such status, but we ranked him over MJ because when his career is said and done, he will top MJ in nearly every statistical category. Lebron James has the ability to do whatever he chooses on the court, whether it be distributing the ball, scoring at will, or locking down his opponent on defense. Lebron James was drafted out of high school by the Cleveland Cavaliers in the 2003 NBA Draft and took on the responsibility of being the team's leader.
Lebron James was not able to reach his first NBA title until he teamed with Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh on the Miami Heat in 2012. The following year the NBA team won another title and later James returned to his hometown team of Cleveland in order to win another championship in 2016. Now, James is currently on the hunt for his fourth after making it to nine straight NBA Finals. His highlight reel is endless but he has work to do.